Tyneside and Northumberland Business Executive of the Year 2011

AFTER building his company through a challenging time for the print industry, Michael Sandford-Couch, chairman and chief executive of Potts Print in Cramlington, is a deserving winner of the Tyneside and Northumberland category of the North East Business Executive of the Year 2011 awards.

WINNER: Michael Sandford-Couch Chairman and chief executive, Potts Print (UK) Ltd

AFTER building his company through a challenging time for the print industry, Michael Sandford-Couch, chairman and chief executive of Potts Print in Cramlington, is a deserving winner of the Tyneside and Northumberland category of the North East Business Executive of the Year 2011 awards.

Through foresight and shrewd investment, Potts Print (UK) remains a leading independent printing, packaging and direct mail company dating back to a little North Shields print shop in 1875.

Clients include international corporations, retail, pharmaceutical and other private sector firms, as well as universities, NHS and other public bodies impressed by advanced lithographic and personalised digital applications, competitive pricing and quality service.

In 1995, 10 years after joining, Sandford-Couch headed the company after the retirement of his father Stuart Couch, who started as an apprentice and rose to become chairman. Michael is also an ex-trainee and when he returned from working overseas, he had produced a plan to double Potts’ sales. Within three years, the company was investing heavily to keep abreast of new technologies.

In 2006, £2m more went into capital equipment and Cramlington became the firm’s new home, where it now has sites for production, warehousing and logistics, the latter distributing throughout the UK and mainland Europe. Further expansion looks certain.

Last year the company took its present name and this year £1.5m more has gone into equipment as turnover nears £14.25m. Another 26 staff have joined the existing 166-strong team.

The company aims to grow turnover to £25m by 2020.

He says: “We have enjoyed a long period of growth. Moving into larger premises in 2006 gave us a head start before recession impacted on the rest of the industry. So we have avoided much of the fallout, and have picked up extra work after from the less fortunate.”

Some 25% of his company’s sales now come from outside the North East, and latest recruits to the business include business development staff, and a market research and PR co-ordinator.

Born in North Shields, Sandford-Couch attended Tynemouth Sixth Form College, Leeds School of Printing and Henley Management College.

He and his wife live at Tynemouth where, he says, he is a reluctant participant in running, tennis and gym visits. He gets away with spectating at cricket – as far as Sydney.


ROB Nirsimloo is chief executive of Hexham-based Multichem and under what he calls his “hands-on” cultivation supplies inks to big brand marker manufacturers and retailers worldwide.

An amazing 99% of the firm’s output is exported and this once small manufacturer of waterproof roof coatings and agricultural colorants, now supplies ink to more than 30 countries. It has been given a Queen’s Award for Enterprise.

It has recently opened an office in China, producing inks there in association with an Australian company.

Nirsimloo joined Multichem in 1998, 25 years after its launch, and he oversaw a move to a new manufacturing plant. Its progress over the following four years meant it needed to relocate again to premises two and a half times bigger.

Nirsimloo was operations manager then general manager before gaining overall charge to drive exports through the next phase of development. He outsourced IT, restructured R&D, rationalised staffing, appointed a non-executive director, revamped sales and marketing and appointed a new Chinese agent. His new sales strategy embraced, besides marker manufacturers, supermarkets and stationers. “We might otherwise have struggled at recession,” he says, praising the support he received from RTC North and UKTI.

He had joined a one-product company which he admits is “not only risky, but gives opportunities to our one-stop-shop competitors.” Now Multichem gives ongoing development in a full ink range and increasingly uses environmentally friendly methods. The company employs 17 in Hexham, China and Japan and has agents in China, Italy, India, Pakistan and Japan.

Nirsimloo was headhunted while general manager for Nicholson Seals, where he grew UK market share and developed exports in the offshore and automotive industries. At Multichem, he has driven turnover from £2.3m in 2007 to £3.8m in 2010. The firm’s favoured charities are the XP Society and the RSPCA.

A lifelong fan of Manchester United and the Rolling Stones, Nirsimloo plays guitar, and enjoys walking his border collie.

BRIAN Palmer is managing director of Tharsus, which operates out of sites in Hebburn and Blyth. He has built Tharsus Group into a £10m a year business with a team of 120 on the back of Tharsus Welding and Sheet Metal Company, which started life in 1964. It was the product of a pools win by two Reyrolle employees and came under Palmer’s command in 2003, after a management buy-in.

The group comprises of sheet metal work and specialist engineering divisions as well as Tharsus Vision, which provides advertising light box signs and displays and Tharsus Direct, which supplies most of BT’s exchange cable management systems, that are largely designed in house, and with the ongoing infrastructure upgrade for broadband. The group’s clients include BT, Siemens, BAE Systems, 3M and Rolls-Royce.

Reinvention as a “white label” manufacturer of larger electro-mechanical product has placed Tharsus in a strong position currently. Palmer says: “We took a risk venturing into unknown territory, going for contracts that meant delivering more complex products than we had ever done before – but it has paid off.”

He has beefed up management, invested in infrastructure, and intensified services and marketing. Encouraged by grants, he has upgraded equipment and bought a new site at Blyth.

He champions apprenticeships and training generally, involvement with schools, and supports local charities.

Palmer, who is from Newcastle, graduated from University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and was in Nissan’s first graduate intake at Washington in 1988.

An outdoor enthusiast, he has sailed competitively at international level, competes in triathlons, and enjoys kite surfing and skiing.


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